Ask any Outer Banks musician with whom they’d like to perform on stage, and one name will invariably come up: Dan Martier.
The Pennsylvania-born percussionist is the anchor in several bands, including TR3, a trio founded by Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist Tim Reynolds of Dave Matthews Band fame.
Martier is a drummer’s drummer; a protean musician that slips effortlessly between Latin, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, country and Cajun and opens the door to a transcendent realm through singing bowls and gongs.
He can work high — backbeating for Joe Mapp and The Coordinates, which features Joe Mapp, a legendary Outer Banks jazz master; Skip Hancock; and Greg Howell. He can work low — performing with his wife, VSOJaz recording artist Laura Martier, in Birddog.
Martier also performs with:
- The Hair People
- , an Americana-rock trip with Sean Olds on vocals and Nate Stockley
- Uber Lounge
- , an experimental band that includes a rotating band of musicians, including TR3’s Tim Reynolds and Mick Vaughn, Joe Mapp, Eddie Williams, Ed Tupper, Matt Wence, Buzz Bessette and Laura Martier
- Karl Werne & Friends
- , which teams Martier with Karl Werne and Eddie Williams
- Aldan Keyma
- , a duo with Martier and DJ Al Key
- The Bell Hops
- , Kelly’s open-mic hosting band, which also includes Buzz Bessette and Bill Rea
- The Wall-O-Matics
- , a band of Mid-Atlantic rockers that includes Paul Keevil and Carson Huggin
In addition, Martier had performed and recorded with Stanley Jordan, critically acclaimed as one of the premier jazz guitarists in the world.
“My music is a wide range of so many different styles. As a drummer-singer, I have been more of a sideman to many projects and support other artist with my rhythm and vocals,” says Martier, who studied with gong master Don Conreaux, 83, one of the world’s most respected teachers of the ancient instrument. “I think it’s easy as a drummer to jump into different situations and play jazz, rock or blues, metal, or whatever is called for. What has helped me in my career is being open to different kinds and styles of music and allowing myself to become a part of it.”
Martier was introduced to the innate power of music by his parents, Charles and Katherine, who managed a Pittsburgh-based folk group called The New Spirit Folk Singers in the ’70s.
“My dad still teaches piano, and they both occasionally go to a senior home in Pittsburgh and play and sing,” Martier says. “Some of the people are younger than the are.”
When he was 7, his musical parents took him to see “Hard Days Night,” a 1964 British musical comedy film starring the Beatles, and Martier says, “That changed my life. I think I am in the music scene because of The Beatles.”
Listening to the music of the Fab 4 poured the gasoline on the desire to pursue a life in music.
“To this day I still think their music sounds fresh and new,” says Martier, who performed in school bands and marching bands while growing up. “Later in life, I got into all the progressive rock — bands like Yes, early Genesis, Jethro Tull — and then the jazz world opened up to me with Jack Dejohnette, John Scofield, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius and so many others.”
The drumbeat of his heart
Martier studied music composition at Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania and later attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk.
“I was at Old Dominion and there was an opportunity to hit the road with a ’60s band, The Spiral Staircase. There was only one original member in the band at that time — Harvey Kaye was the keyboard player — but I was on the road for a couple years and learned a lot,” he says of that cosmic twist of fate in 1982. “I met Laura, my wife, in that band, and we never stopped since then. It was love at first sight.”
The Southern Shores couple has two grown children: daughter Lucy, 26; and son Joshua, 32.
“Josh lives in Brooklyn with his longtime partner, Katie Fuller, and still comes to the OBX in the summer. He is an amazing drummer, singer and writer.”
Like his father, Joshua Martier performs with several bands: Zack Mexico, Yard Dogs, Yacht Dogs and Hound Dogs Family Band (which also features Katie Fuller), but The Tills – which also features Harry Harrison, Jesse Meyers and Tom Peters — is his primary band.
“Lucy lives in Alameda, California, with her wife Ari and has a serious job at a tech company called Slack. She is a singer-songwriter, continues to write really good songs and has a very original style,” the proud father says, adding her composition, “Leave it on the Left Side,” “is one of my favorite songs ever.”
The family patriarch has a sterling reputation as an in-demand master of rhythm and solid singer, but he’s also an all-around good guy, says Outer Banks singer-songwriter Harry Harrison, 26.
“I love Dan Martier like he’s my own father,” Harrison says. “He’s like Mufasa from the ‘Lion King’ for me. If not for the Martier family, I’d probably be road kill by now. They took me in. I owe my life to them.”
Harrison’s path crossed Martier’s eight years ago, when — just our of high school — he moved to Asheville and met Josh, then a student at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
“He was going to college, and I had just moved there to search for musicians and start a band,” Harrison says. He and Martier teamed up with Jesse Myers and Tom Peters to form The Critters, a garage rock band later called The Tills.
When Martier headed home to Southern Shores, Harrison followed and found a safe harbor with the musical family.
Over the years, the elder Martier has become a friend, mentor and musical role model to him, he says.
“Dan has the most refined touch on a snare drum that I’ve ever heard. He makes the snare sound like an orchestra; totally multidimensional,” Harrison says. “‘In the pocket’ is where good musicians want to be. Dan is the pocket. … There is no one better than Dan Martier on drums. He’s as good as it gets. …Dan is the real deal.”
Multi-award-winning singer-songwriter and blues mistress Ruth Wyand — music director of the Mustang Outreach Program— agrees.
“Dan takes a song to a higher level of expertise and tasteful playing. He instinctively knows how to lead the band,” Wyand says, adding, “he also has a great sense of humor.”
Martier’s reputation as a virtuoso behind a drum kit is known far and wide, “But,” quips photographer Biff Jennings of Shooters at the Beach, “there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that the new world natives on Roanoke Island were taught the drum circle by Dan Martier in 1585. There is even some doubt that the drum roll and subsequent rim shot that accompanied the Wright Brothers first flight could have been Dan.”
What is crystal clear is that Martier “is without doubt the reigning rhythm king of the Outer Banks,” says Jennings who met Martier more than 25 years ago. “Dan was in about as many bands as I have fingers — rock, Americana, jazz, progressive… if it had a beat, it had Dan.”
Martier was in-demand then for the same reason he is in demand now: the way he handles the sticks: “Subtle as Mike Shreve, wild as Keith Moon, as big as John Bonham,” Jennings says. “He’s that good. …Dan can roll into Art’s to play killer jazz with Joe Mapp with less gear than a kid with pixie sticks and a coffee can, and still blow that house down.”